This postapocalyptic novel is an unusual study in contrasts; set far enough in the future for the Beatles to be a distant memory but written before personal computing and other technology are commonplace. Unnatural global incidents end in a devastating storm that leaves only hair and false teeth in its wake. However, people and animals trapped underground emerge unharmed. Among those are Muriel Wake, her 13-year-old son, Paul, and Paul's friend Henry. Their search for other survivors nets them a motley crew including two Australian figure skaters, a local grave digger, and a Soviet submarine crew. Retaining some sense of normalcy is the grand goal. Carole Boyd, a popular BBC radio actress, admirably proves her skill with a variety of British, Australian, and Indian accents. Even the children are recognizably different from one another. Boyd paces the story well and allows the tension and foreboding to build. The ending is a true surprise. Highly recommended.-Jodi L. Israel, Westwood, Mass.
Gr 6-8-Another enigmatic tale from the author of Haphazard House (Overlook, 1993), this was originally published in England in 1984 as a revised version of a 1969 story. After news reports of plague, famine, and oddly colored snow in various parts of the world, Muriel, her son Paul, and his best friend wake one morning to find that nearly all other life in their rural community has vanished. As they slowly join other survivors-a gravedigger, three monks, the crew from a Yugoslavian submarine, and several more-it becomes clear that some, though not all, were saved by being underground (the author makes no great effort to explain the exceptions). The boys adapt easily to their new life, dashing off to loot stores and explore neighboring towns, and Muriel, grieving over the recent death of her husband, copes ably but numbly with hers. They go to London, a bedlam where heavily armed survivors are desperately killing one another; they barely escape. Except for this episode, the story has a peaceful, gently humorous air created by deft dialogue, many Briticisms, and a quirky cast. The ending, however, may leave readers confused. Wesley implies that the disaster, which remains unexplained, was neither natural nor manmade, and signals some sort of vast but puzzlingly undefined epiphany in Muriel. Next to books such as John Christopher's Empty World (Dutton, 1978; o.p.) or the novels of J.G. Ballard, this one seems mild and muddled.-John Peters, New York Public Library